It’s Tro­phy Time For Spurs

Australian Four Four Two - - CONTENTS -

...says Chris­tian Erik­sen. Should we hold our breath?

He may not have added a tro­phy to his man­tel­piece, but there can be no doubt­ing that Chris­tian Erik­sen achieved a lot in 2017-18. The Dane scored 14 goals for Tot­ten­ham – the best re­turn of his club ca­reer – in­clud­ing Cham­pi­ons League strikes at home to Euro­pean cham­pi­ons Real Madrid and away to the fa­mously stingy Ju­ven­tus, not to men­tion an un­stop­pable dip­ping rocket that helped to se­cure his club’s first win at Stam­ford Bridge in 28 years. On top of his goalscor­ing, Erik­sen’s el­e­gant play­mak­ing helped the north Lon­don­ers to over­come the no­table hur­dle of play­ing their ‘home’ games at Wem­b­ley Sta­dium. They ended the cam­paign in a cred­i­ble third place, en­sur­ing a third con­sec­u­tive sea­son of Cham­pi­ons League foot­ball for Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino’s men. Al­though sur­pris­ingly omit­ted from the short­list for the 2017-18 PFA Player of the Year award, Erik­sen was named in the PFA’s Pre­mier League Team of the Sea­son for the first time. Yet, de­spite all of that, his most re­cent cam­paign in a Spurs shirt will be re­mem­bered by many for a goal he saw chalked off. In the 63rd minute of Tot­ten­ham’s 2-1 win at Stoke in April, Erik­sen swung a dan­ger­ous free-kick into the Pot­ters’ penalty area. The loop­ing ball de­ceived goal­keeper Jack But­land and nes­tled into the net. Erik­sen wheeled away, as did Golden Boot-chas­ing marks­man Harry Kane, who was ini­tially cred­ited with the win­ning goal. Later that evening, the goal was re­as­signed to Erik­sen, be­fore even­tu­ally be­ing awarded to Kane on ap­peal a few days later. Some cam­era an­gles sug­gested Kane may have got the slight­est of touches; oth­ers, that the Eng­land cap­tain made no con­tact at all. Bizarrely, it briefly be­came the most talked-about is­sue in English foot­ball. “If Harry says he touched the ball, then it’s his goal,” the Dane tells FourFourTwo with­out hes­i­ta­tion. “Even if 50 cam­eras sug­gest some­thing dif­fer­ent, I be­lieve Harry when he says he touched it. I never had any in­ten­tion to get in­volved in that dis­cus­sion. If it was his goal, it means I got an as­sist, and that’s fine with me. “Af­ter­wards it ended up be­ing a huge talk­ing point – it was fun stuff for the rest of the world. It be­came a crazy meme about Harry claim­ing things. It prob­a­bly went too far. “Now, though, I think it’s quite funny. I laugh about it a lot – and I think Harry does, too. “It’s crazy that it went that far. But that just shows how the press and so­cial me­dia can get things go­ing.” The hub­bub had barely died down when Erik­sen headed off to Rus­sia for Den­mark’s World Cup. Hav­ing scored a sen­sa­tional hat-trick in the sec­ond leg of their qual­i­fy­ing play-off against the Re­pub­lic of Ire­land, Erik­sen was un­der pres­sure to in­spire his team to em­u­late great Dan­ish sides of the past and make a splash in the tour­na­ment. Set­ting up the win­ner against Peru in their open­ing match, be­fore crash­ing in a bel­ter against Aus­tralia in their sec­ond, cer­tainly did the trick. Sev­eral pun­dits named the 26-year-old as one of the best play­ers of the group stage, with many of them also mar­vel­ling at Erik­sen’s im­pres­sive work rate – he cov­ered 36km, more than any other player. Sadly for Erik­sen, an­other strong per­sonal show­ing against Croa­tia in the last 16 ended on a sour note. In the penalty shootout that fol­lowed their 1-1 draw, Erik­sen’s spot-kick was bril­liantly saved by Dani­jel Suba­sic as Den­mark crashed out to the even­tual fi­nal­ists. There was lit­tle time to mope. With eyes on Spurs’ first sea­son in their new sta­dium, and with so many of his club-mates spend­ing the full four weeks out in Rus­sia, Erik­sen needs to hit the ground run­ning if they’re to avoid a slug­gish start.

How would you com­pare Tot­ten­ham’s 2017-18 to the pre­vi­ous sea­son? Was there progress even though you fin­ished a place lower in the league?

If you look only at the Pre­mier League ta­ble, then we didn’t, but per­son­ally I think we im­proved com­pared to 2016-17. When you look at the

“IT WAS nICE TO BEAT REAL MADRID, A nD OUR STYLE MAKES THI nGS DIFFICUL T FOR THEM, BUT IT IS n’T SATISFYI nG THAT THEY REACHED THE FI nAL A nD WE DID n’T”

sea­son as a whole, and fo­cus in par­tic­u­lar on how we per­formed in the Cham­pi­ons League, I think you would have to say it was a step for­ward. You scored the most goals you’ve ever scored in a sin­gle sea­son and also made the PFA Team of the Year for the first time. Was 2017-18 your best sea­son at Spurs? Yeah, I think so. It was also one of the most im­por­tant sea­sons for me, be­cause I was able to con­trib­ute through­out the whole sea­son. There were no in­juries or spells out of the team. I was in­volved in ev­ery­thing.

Is there any par­tic­u­lar part of your game you feel you’ve im­proved?

No, not re­ally. [ Laughs] I think it’s more that peo­ple now look at me as a player in a slightly dif­fer­ent way. I would say, per­haps, that in con­trast to pre­vi­ous sea­sons, I didn’t fade out of matches in the same way as maybe I did in the past. Even when I didn’t score a goal or get an as­sist, I al­ways made a big con­tri­bu­tion to the team. That may be a change that peo­ple have no­ticed. But as a player – in terms of my tech­ni­cal qual­i­ties – I don’t think I have changed much. The num­ber of chances I cre­ated wasn’t higher than in pre­vi­ous sea­sons. It may ac­tu­ally have been lower. Last sea­son I was just for­tu­nate enough to put the ball in the back of the net my­self on sev­eral oc­ca­sions. It was great.

What was your high­light? Beat­ing Real Madrid? Scor­ing at Chelsea?

For me, it was the away game against Ju­ven­tus in the Cham­pi­ons League. The way we fought back [to 2-2] hav­ing gone 2-0 down early in the match was very im­pres­sive. The way we played in that match – and the great re­sult we ended up get­ting – was a big state­ment. We all know how dif­fi­cult it is to play away to Ju­ven­tus, but we proved that we were able to com­pete with them. And we could have won when you look at the chances we cre­ated. The two matches you men­tion weren’t bad, ei­ther! These are me­mories I also look back at with im­mense joy. In the sec­ond leg of that Ju­ven­tus last-16 tie, Spurs led 1-0 at Wem­b­ley but lost 2-1 and went of the Cham­pi­ons League. Just how dis­ap­point­ing was that, hav­ing won a group fea­tur­ing Real Madrid – the hold­ers and even­tual win­ners – and Borus­sia Dort­mund? It was a huge dis­ap­point­ment. As you say, the build-up to the Juve matches had been per­fect – we were great in the group stage and cre­ated a lot of chances. We re­ally showed the world the best of Tot­ten­ham. So, of course it was dis­ap­point­ing to exit the Cham­pi­ons League quite early. We were great in the first leg in Turin, and also in the sec­ond leg at Wem­b­ley, ac­tu­ally. Un­for­tu­nately, they had three clin­i­cal min­utes where they took their chances. After that, it was too dif­fi­cult for us to turn it around. It’s hard to say ex­actly what went wrong. Some­times you give the op­po­si­tion chances – and they took them. But if you look at the tie over­all, they weren’t bet­ter than us.

Now that Real Madrid have been crowned Euro­pean cham­pi­ons for a third suc­ces­sive sea­son, how much sat­is­fac­tion do you take from that group-stage win over them?

It was nice to beat them, but it isn’t sat­is­fy­ing that they reached the fi­nal and we didn’t. You can say the same about Liver­pool, who we beat in the league a cou­ple of weeks ear­lier. We beat both fi­nal­ists, so in that way you could say that we should have been in the fi­nal – that’s one way of look­ing at it. We’ve proven that we can com­pete with the very best, but we need to take the fi­nal step.

What did Tot­ten­ham do right against Real Madrid that so many other teams around Europe didn’t man­age to do?

I be­lieve we played them at the right time. They had prob­lems in the league and we were cruis­ing. Also, I think the way we play is great against a team like Real Madrid: we aren’t afraid to push high and get the ball for­ward fast. I think our style of play is per­fect to make it very dif­fi­cult for Real Madrid. Even if we’re not play­ing at our best, we will al­ways cre­ate chances. You men­tioned that you beat Liver­pool in the league last sea­son, in a mem­o­rable 4-1 win at Wem­b­ley. Do you think you can match what they did last year in the Cham­pi­ons League? Def­i­nitely. Our early draws in the Cham­pi­ons League were harder than Liver­pool’s, but we still cre­ated lots of chances against the teams we faced. If we can take the good things we did last sea­son with us to the com­ing sea­son, then I’m sure we’ll be suc­cess­ful. You were spot­ted din­ing out with Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino (above left) in Copen­hagen be­fore the World Cup. What kind of re­la­tion­ship do you have with your man­ager at Tot­ten­ham? He sud­denly called be­cause he was vis­it­ing Copen­hagen – it was quite ran­dom, as it’s not of­ten you go out to have din­ner with your man­ager! We have a very strong and pro­fes­sional re­la­tion­ship – when you’re the player and he’s the man­ager, it will al­ways be a re­ally pro­fes­sional re­la­tion­ship. I’m happy that he al­lows me to play the kind of foot­ball I want to play, and which I’m used to play­ing. He puts a lot of trust in me and that is a great feel­ing.

How much are you look­ing for­ward to play­ing in Tot­ten­ham’s new sta­dium this sea­son?

It will be a bit weird to leave Wem­b­ley after we got used to play­ing there, but I be­lieve it will be great for us, the fans and the club to get back to our own sta­dium in an up­graded ver­sion. It looks like a re­ally huge and fan­tas­tic sta­dium, so I am very much look­ing for­ward to play­ing there this sea­son.

What are your tar­gets for the 2018-19 cam­paign?

Be­fore ev­ery sea­son, our aim is to do even bet­ter than we did in the pre­vi­ous sea­son. Last year we im­proved in the Cham­pi­ons League but not in the league – so I guess our tar­get will be to im­prove in both the Pre­mier League and Cham­pi­ons League. That won’t be easy – we will re­ally have to step up – but I be­lieve we can do it. There has been a lot of talk that all this promise from Tot­ten­ham means noth­ing with­out win­ning things. Do you agree with that? Do Spurs have to start win­ning tro­phies? It wasn’t like that when I came to the club in 2013, but it is like that now. Through­out the last two sea­sons, there has been a lot of fo­cus on us not win­ning tro­phies. Peo­ple can say we haven’t won any­thing, but I think we have taken big steps for­ward com­pared to a few years ago.

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